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Social Studies of Science OnlineFirst, published on March 5, 2010 as doi:10.

1177/0306312709359219

Research Note

From co-location to co-presence: Shifts in the use of ethnography for the study of knowledge
Anne Beaulieu
Abstract

Social Studies of Science XX(X) 1–18 © The Author(s) 2010 Reprints and permissions: sagepub. co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0306312709359219 sss.sagepub.com

Virtual Knowledge Studio for the Humanities and Social Sciences, The Netherlands

Ethnography has been successfully deployed in science and technology studies, and more specifically in laboratory studies. By using co-presence rather than co-location as a starting point to conceptualize and articulate fieldwork, new aspects of knowledge production are foregrounded in ethnographic studies. This research note proposes and discusses co-presence as an epistemic strategy that pays close attention to non-lab based knowledge production that can embrace textuality, infrastructure and mediation, and that draws into relief the role of ethnographer as author, participant-observer and scholar. Furthermore, co-presence as an approach to doing fieldwork generates new prospects for the study of knowledge production. It enables STS to develop the ethnographic study of highly mediated, distributed or non-lab-based fields, such as the humanities, e-research and e-science.

Keywords
database, ethnography, e-research, e-science, infrastructure, laboratory studies, methods, networks

Arrival stories in ethnographic accounts typically tell of the great difficulties and small successes of early stages of fieldwork, and I also begin this paper in that way. As a PhD student some 10 years ago, I spent 6 months doing fieldwork in two laboratories, with a pause of a few months in between, spent at my home department. Armed with what I considered to be a significant experience, I embarked on my second period of fieldwork. On my first day, I deployed what had been a hugely successful strategy to ‘get things going’ in my fieldwork in lab number one. ‘Could you give me a tour of the lab?’, I asked the lab director who was welcoming me. ‘Well, if you really want to find out what we’re

Corresponding author: Anne Beaulieu, The Virtual Knowledge Studio for the Humanities and Social Sciences – VKS, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cruquiusweg 31, 1019 AT, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Email anne.beaulieu@vks.knaw.nl

I had already grasped. and what might count as an answer. in order to show that perfectly ordinary social and cultural processes such as negotiation. the hard core of science. I tended to reject this invitation as not being very relevant to what was worth observing. I also think that. I would respond very differently to this invitation to look at the website. This ‘brush-off’ served to steel my determination to get something out of these people. what also underlies the humiliation and frustration I felt when being told to look at the website are ideas about the proper way to do fieldwork in STS that I had internalized. It opens up the possibility that co-presence might be established through a variety of modes. Not only does it enable the researcher to take mediated settings very seriously (insofar as they are a means or resource for being co-present).2 Ethnographies have addressed ‘knowledge-in-the-making’. Youthful arrogance probably had a part to play in this episode. 1957). and therefore out of line with my goals to conduct an ethnographic lab study. were this to happen today. I now have a very different reading of my ‘success’ with this strategy in the first lab and my ‘failure’ in the second. Ethnographic approaches in STS have been used to explore a wide-range of questions about knowledge production. symbolic activity or accommodation were also taking . While physical co-location can be a resource for participants. and researchers have focused on observing manipulations of the empirical. what follows is therefore a reflection on ethnographic methods that conjoins what is worth asking. I address these questions here in terms of co-presence and show how particular problematizations (Rabinow. Co-presence as a starting point enables a more symmetrical treatment of forms of interaction. Rather than a report on a specific piece of ethnographic research. but it also does not exclude face-to-face situations. Because I had set out to do participant-observation in a particular place. to type up notes of this exchange that focused on the difficulty of ‘being taken seriously’ by these bio-medicalphysics types.2 Social Studies of Science XX(X) doing. I put forward the concept of co-presence as a way to shape fieldwork. how one might go about seeking answers. trust. This discussion focuses on the relation between the creation of the ‘field’ as the object of ethnography and the insights that can be obtained from doing ‘fieldwork’. Co-presence can therefore be used to construct a field site and enables STS researchers to consider new aspects of knowledge production that may not be strongly tied to a physically defined space such as a lab. which implies (the desirability of) physical co-location as a requisite for ethnographic investigation. Co-presence decentralizes the notion of space without excluding it. 2003) in STS can be tied to specific ways of doing ethnographic research. the best thing for you to do is to look at what we’ve got on the website’. In this paper. But looking back on this episode. that iteration and recovery from mistakes is 90% of fieldwork. This story illustrates how assumptions about what counts as proper ethnographic observation shape one’s field. physical co-location being one among others. and that physical presence is not equivalent to availability for interaction (Goffman. I hadn’t come all the way to North America to look at websites – which I’d already done from home anyway. it is not in itself a sufficient criterion for co-presence. competition. it seems. A focus on achieving co-presence also emphasizes that interaction is a potentially rewarding but precarious achievement (Goffman. But arguably. 1971). and would not think of it as a dismissal. such as ‘going into the field’.1 It is a preferable formulation to others. was the answer – an answer that sent me red-faced back to my cubicle.

2007). 1986 [1979]. 2007). VKS. As Knorr Cetina (1995: 151) puts it: ‘If construction is wrapped up in bounded locales. in some disciplines. lab studies have been hailed as one of the major contributions to constructivism because of the way they demonstrate how the universal claims of science are localized (Knorr Cetina. Oudshoorn and Pinch. Voskuhl. Knorr Cetina. Knorr Cetina and Bruegger. but it is cross-cut by the topical contexture of the database. 1985). without one necessarily threatening the other. 2006). 1988). may affect the spatial organization of labs so that: [i]n Lynch’s (1991) terms. the role of inscriptions. 2007. Hine. 2007. 2006b: 292–293) Other work has also considered the challenges of studying more distributed settings of knowledge production (Star. 2003). (Hine.’ The place of knowledge production (and lab studies in particular) has therefore been important in developing ethnographic contributions for STS. to develop a better understanding of what counts as labour and of how this labour is valued as knowledge production becomes ‘informationalized’ (Virtual Knowledge Studio for the Humanities and Social Sciences [VKS]. 2006. 1996. ethnographic studies have also been called for in order to study the constitution of facts as a not-yet-fully-tackled issue in STS (Doing. 1997. the use of particular kinds of tools such as databases. Labs are also changing entities. 2003) and the persistence of variations in practices (Sommerlund.Beaulieu 3 place in the laboratory (Fujimura and Fortun. such as the construction of facts. shaped and marked by specific kinds of institutional routines and demarcated from other spaces in order to function (Derksen. In particular. The evocation of the space of knowledge or an appeal for the diversification of spaces to consider for studying science ethnographically are recurrent elements across these . 1995). as a way to develop better interventions from STS (Hess. Knorr. and to study science as a practical accomplishment. 2007. 2001). and what counts as a contribution to scientific work and knowledge have been addressed and refined through ethnographic investigations (Latour and Woolgar. … The database and the laboratory can therefore co-exist as different frameworks for organizing action. the ethnographer needs to “penetrate the spaces” and the stream of practices from which fact construction arises. 2007. 2006. 2004). 1981. 1999. 2007. 2007). Lynch. Woolgar and Coopmans. 1999). 1985. A powerful way to argue the non-universality of scientific claims. namely the ontological and epistemological diversity of science and of the meaning of technology (Beaulieu et al. Wakeford. 2006a. 2000. Fay. and as Hine notes. Henke and Gieryn. is therefore to show how knowledge production is embedded in local environments (Merz. Labs undoubtedly are very interesting kinds of places. Timmermans. Recently. Lynch. and to counter new universalizing claims around ICT from policy-makers and funding agencies by developing new accounts of practice (Hine.. the laboratory remains a place where different topical contextures are enacted. as a way to understand the constitution of new objects of knowledge (Jensen. Ethnographic studies remain important for establishing some of the perennial claims of STS. Traweek. which would connect nodes in networks or (a subset of) the varieties of spaces where knowledge is produced. 2000). or considered the need for a mobile and connective ethnography (Dirksen. 2006). Significant concepts in STS.

other ways of conceptualizing the field may be especially useful for ethnographic research. as is the case in scientific labs. There are significant differences between the kinds of spaces used for natural or life science and for humanities research. networks and flows are figures that shape how ethnographic knowledge is conceptualized. These differences. But in order to do so. as I experienced in a recent ethnographic project on a group of women’s studies scholars. elaboration and configuration of the field through the figure of ‘co-presence’ are presented and analyzed in terms of their consequences for doing fieldwork and for what can be learned from it. But where should one look for the field? How can one develop an ethnography that provides insight into the material and symbolic resources needed. hold implications for what makes up the field for ethnographic research. 1994). which are not structured around a public space for manipulation of empirical phenomena. the skills of researchers. like new forms of authoritative knowledge. The present text makes a similar argument in putting forth co-presence as a focus of fieldwork that elaborates upon ‘the stream of practices’ and that engages with new forms of knowledge production. historical or literary knowledge. a term I used to denote these more solitary practices. because social interaction is no less crucial for rendering ‘public’ philosophical. which boundaries are drawn and what kinds of engagement are foregrounded (de Laet and Mol. How can these forms of research be investigated ethnographically? A further challenge for STS ethnographers is to follow ‘streams of practices’ that are mediated by information and communication technology in order to study forms of knowledge production that fall under the labels of cyberinfrastructure. 2000. which were not very satisfying to the fieldworker. that they have no need of particular kinds of spaces.4 This is different from arguing that women’s studies scholars lack physical presence. Entering a bustling lab is a very different proposition from installing oneself in the study of a lone scholar. e-research or . the changing shape of scientific work. Co-location/co-presence As STS scholars increasingly study forms of knowledge production where the space of the lab (or similar locale) is much less central. and the mechanisms that validate research practices in a field like women’s studies? To look for a space of knowledge was not a promising avenue. than it is for a laboratory science. Asking ‘Where is the field?’ led to largely metaphorical answers.4 Social Studies of Science XX(X) calls for ethnographic research and elaborations on ethnography of knowledge production. The conceptualization. and dynamics of innovation can be explored through ethnography. such as those in the humanities or e-research. the ethnographic approach must adapt in order to study these fields in which research practices are not concentrated in lab-like spaces. In particular. It is also far from the case that such scholarship is strictly an individual matter. ethnographic approaches must loosen their grip on co-location as a necessary requirement for ‘being in the field’ if they are to consider important issues about knowledge production that arise in fields. Mol and Law. the articulation of fieldwork in terms of spaces links particular topologies and social theory: regions.3 As such. In this humanities setting what happens is ‘intimate science’. and that they are not attached to these. as well as the very significance of space. Key STS topics.

E-research increasingly relies on the use of inscriptions not only as interactional resources. making it even more crucial to develop sophisticated understandings of their production. 2002). Gupta and Ferguson. lab studies were quick to point to the wealth of other texts and traces (‘inscriptions’) that preceded and exceeded accounts written up in scientific paper (Latour and Woolgar. 2000). Indeed ethnography. Going beyond published accounts and observing working scientists proved to be a successful strategy in the face of previous studies that treated formal representations (scientific papers) as adequate accounts of science (Knorr Cetina. I propose co-presence as a motif or figure for the ethnographic object. but to find a way to fully embrace them as part of the field. Co-presence is an interactive accomplishment by participants and ethnographers alike. Ethnography has thus been involved in border disputes with other disciplines that focus on ‘texts’. 1997). as I have set it up so far. Olson et al. . 2000. co-presence foregrounds the relationship between self and other and interaction that achieves presence in a setting. Vinck and Zarma. nor simply to take notice of their presence. Co-presence and conceptualization of the field The challenge. ‘establishing co-presence’ is a distinct epistemic strategy that leads the ethnographer to ask. and it does not share the unidirectional and oculocentric connotations of witnessing (Woolgar and Coopmans.Beaulieu 5 e-science (Hine. even a partial failure to encompass it can be productive of further insights (Metcalf. 2006. which is often experienced as a challenge to its core epistemic commitments to witness faceto-face (often oral) communications and interactions. 2008. Most importantly. Because it does not assume the centrality of shared space. especially in the cultural anthropology tradition. Such inscriptions assume highly malleable digital form. At the same time. The move from studying texts to observing interactions by examining laboratory practices and interactions has been especially valuable for STS. ‘How can I establish co-presence?’ rather than ‘Where do I go?’ This difference has implications (and. face-to-face interaction. and do not depend on the centrality of laboratories and the notion of physical. but also as modes of mediation. Simply put. 2006a. The issue for ethnographers is therefore not to go beyond the texts and traces. while developing new understandings of field sites that involve distributed work and mediated action. is to draw on the ethnographic tradition of STS. 2007).. While giving a complete account of shared meaning is not an attainable goal. such as cultural studies or history (Amit. These streams of practices therefore exceed what can be witnessed in face-to-face interaction or in the space of a lab – itself increasingly problematized and denaturalized as a unit (Gieryn. 1995). as well as of other fields in the sciences and humanities that involve highly mediated forms of research or where the lab does not figure so prominently. circulation and remediation (Bolter and Grusin. 2008). Inscriptions are even more ubiquitous in e-research settings. has had a difficult relationship to mediation. 1986 [1979]). significant advantages). I argue. Conceptually. which are detailed in the rest of this paper. 2006). the notion of co-presence can be useful in ethnographies of e-research. doing ethnographic research by focusing on co-presence highlights the centrality of shared meaning achieved in and through interaction.

Instead. All help constitute the specific outlines of the field. Mackenzie. Co-presence therefore draws attention to the performative aspect of doing ethnographic fieldwork. because they are also crucial for establishing co-presence. though the modalities of co-presence are different. it does not necessarily take the form of physical proximity. A mediated relation to informants is sometimes treated as an obstacle to ethnographic rapport that is supposedly most reliably achieved through face-to-face research.6 Social Studies of Science XX(X) When an ethnographer raises the question of ‘how to be co-present’. and so on. if infrastructure is necessary to establish the possibility of co-presence. Taylor. rather than an absolute condition to be fulfilled in order for research to count as ‘ethnographic’. mediation is not a shortcoming of networked sociality. electronic signals that mark particular connections). describing what they’re watching or doing. receiving apparatus. many elements besides space can be important. . When interaction is a condition for co-presence. it is not something extraneous to the field. rather than an absolute condition for fieldwork. specific modes of mediation can be crucial for meaningful practices in which to engage as participant-observers (Boellstorff. and while the conversation continues they are joined by their interlocutor – at which point the mobile phone connection is turned off and the conversation continues face-to-face. technological elements such as automated responses. In other words. 2006b. 1998. ‘telephone tag’ – and indeed synchronous or time-shifted interactions can be associated with different forms of presence.5 she can foreground social interaction as constitutive of co-presence. texts and infrastructures become so many resources in establishing co-presence that can be embraced as constitutive of the field. There is no breach or disjuncture of co-presence for the interlocutors in this interaction. ‘Where to go’ is but one question among many.6 Co-presence can also be achieved through a combination of mediated and face-to-face interaction. transmission mode. 2003). one resource or means for achieving co-presence. Presence mediated via the telephone can also take on different temporal forms – leaving messages on a machine. A broader conception of co-presence enables the ethnographer to examine mediation as a feature of social relations rather than a barrier to them. platform. we can determine when we are co-present with our intended recipient. Some of these routines are conventional. Riles. music festival or other large event is to see someone talking on their mobile phone. It can be fully embraced. According to this conception of co-presence. Travelling to the field becomes one possible strategy. imagine a telephone conversation: when engaging in a phone call. interruptions. Instead of taking shared space as a primary or necessary condition for ‘being in the field’. 2008. quality of the connection and various other signals also become part of the ethnographic object. To return to the example of the telephone call. and some may be infrastructural (for example. A common sight at a conference. for example. It also problematizes imperatives such as: ‘You can’t possibly go to all the places where the participants are!’ or ‘You need to meet your respondent!’ Even when treating interaction as a key element. one must consider all the components that sustain it. Newman. 2003). We rely on interactional routines. As an illustration. and it is possible to analyse the texture and quality of how this co-presence is achieved and sustained. and others are idiosyncratic. are both topics and resources for fieldwork (Hine. Space. 1999) Electronic networks and infrastructures. Neither face-to-face contact nor shared physical space is necessary. such as answering. as some fear (Urry. turn taking. 2001. to establish and sustain the situation.

In anthropology. In settings studied in STS. reflexivity and ethics Constituting the ethnographic field. Accordingly. the challenge was to organize availability. as the rhythms of this group had to be coordinated with other schedules and commitments. 2008. This is all the more so when the field is highly mediated and generates many traces of interaction. the availability of which predates the ethnographer’s fieldwork. to a website) may be available for others. and have chosen to take as a starting point that ‘the ethnography’ already exists in the shape of these traces (Schaap. in the tradition of Xerox PARC. This distance is sometimes acknowledged as a concession to academic reward systems (Bruns. Given that travel is less salient for access. Miller and Slater. When much of this mediation produces textual forms. 2008) or even celebrated as the integration of the ‘virtual’ into the prosaic academic realm (Boelstorff. 2008). This strategy characterizes existing writing as ‘empirical material’. Tyler (1986) and many others have critiqued the epistemic authority that is based on having gone into an exotic field. which creates distance between the writing and inscriptions in the field and the setting in which the ethnographer is making knowledge claims. ‘being there’ is no longer such a strong claim for the ethnographer. Focusing on co-presence also can make other demands on the ethnographer. The logistics of absence/presence were productive of insight. the friction between kinds of time were more telling of the particularities of the field. For example. How have these been dealt with? Some ethnographers may choose to build their claims to authorship by seeking new (hypermedia) forms for ‘writing culture’ that go beyond the mediation that already exists in the field. Gajjala. One strategy has been to produce sophisticated visualizations or meta-analyses based on existing traces. . the ethnographer’s writing (and any putative value of this activity) cannot simply be defined in contrast to the ‘orality’ of the field. since the relation to space has traditionally been crucial for defining her authority and identity. 2004. Thus. above and beyond travelling to enter a space. lectures and other events were so important for constituting my field that it was more important to determine ‘when’ the field would be available than ‘where’ it could be found. such as paper monographs (Hine.Beaulieu 7 Epistemic authority. Taylor. Another strategy consists in investing in kinds of writing. Rather than organizing travel. and proposed as an alternative that the ethnographer’s authority should be based in authorship. 2006). for both ethnographers in STS and for the multiplying numbers of researchers working as in-house ethnographers at corporations such as Microsoft or Google. 2000. ethnographers are far from the only authors or authorities (about science) on the scene. Co-presence involves not so much the ability to travel but rather emphasizes coordination. Some scholars (in ethnomethodology and especially in internet studies) see this as a radical break in the epistemic strategies of ethnography. shifting her role as traveller or author. during my fieldwork in women’s studies. flexibility and availability. ethnographers try to differentiate their roles from those of participants in terms of (kinds of) writing or of the manipulation of digital inscriptions. than were the contrasts between the spaces of my academic ‘home’ and those of women’s studies. and that access (for example. These conditions of work are increasingly common. 2002). pursuing fieldwork and writing are intertwined activities that make up the epistemic power of the ethnographer. above which the ethnographer rises (Beaulieu. 2001). Re-articulating ‘the field’ simultaneously changes the ethnographer’s role.

or by distancing and exoticizing the field as Other. I sought to configure myself as a consistent. What distinguishes these efforts from other reflexive projects (Behar. funders and colleagues. and others via emails directed to me personally or to a small subgroup. 1996) is the contiguity of the various roles and accompanying accountabilities. 2009). both as a fieldworker and as an author. Furthermore. issues of contiguity increase in importance and complexity (Beaulieu and Estalella. this diversity of writing activities was traceable by colleagues and participants alike. Throughout. When research practices and research relationship occur in an increasingly mediated setting. In short. Another important element in situating my activities and explicating these relations was the continuity of identity I performed throughout the research. I believe. and to how our mediation affects the material gathered and the value of the ethnographer’s contribution. This decision has also meant choosing accountability rather than anonymity as an ethical strategy.7 It also decreased both my own anxiety about possible reactions from the field regarding eventual publications and. to further situate the ethnographic insights I was presenting to colleagues at conferences. attending to their personal pages (Hine. about publications. In turn. Co-presence as an epistemic move is therefore an opportunity to question the distinctions between fieldwork/analysis/dissemination that were constructed by relying on geographical distance or on the distance between the life world of the lab and that of the STS academic. they must also monitor how others (including non-human others. For example. 2004). I further used my personal professional homepage. My postings on the mailing list were a way to achieve co-presence. I used reactions from the list to these posts in my presentations. some participants’ suspicions about possible outcomes. and the potential effect this can have on their informants. as an interface that provided links to my writing. 1988) or on heuristic explications of relations (Strathern. I was able to enact and document my epistemic authority with regards to the field and my academic context as situated and relational. the ethnographer must simultaneously attend to multiple kinds . when debates erupted about the boundaries or purpose of the list. 2008). I also considered how certain exchanges were pursued via the list. such as search engines) may be framing the ethnographer’s research. but also as a way of signalling and linking my own research and writing practices to others on the list. Not only do researchers spend time managing their presence on the web or in other digital settings. to other research activities and to my institutional affiliation. I also posted to the list about my upcoming presentations at conferences. and about the way interactions on and around the list figured in these activities. easily found by typing my not-too-common name in Google. I used the list not only as a means of ethnographic investigation. traceable ethnographer and author across these various sites and moments in the research. rather than by claiming exclusivity of access. the posts I contributed detailed how my observations led me to make particular statements.8 Social Studies of Science XX(X) An alternative response to these conditions is to base authority on situatedness (Haraway. when there is potential for the researcher’s colleagues to be present in the field (and vice versa). As a result. On a methodological level. this means paying close attention to how we value the writing that already exists in the field. By consistently using the same name across these settings. In the course of my fieldwork on women’s studies. 2000) or avatars (Boellstorff. a mailing list became an important part of my field.

Co-presence beyond fieldwork The proposal not to worry about space so much. Co-presence as an approach to fieldwork can therefore involve novel kinds of writing and performance of academic selves – a project that may be more or less risky. 2003). Much has been written in anthropology on . Issues of collaborative or team ethnography may also become more pressing. ethnographers may need to align themselves to particular actors in order to get access to the backstage of infrastructures and mine the log files. Researchers can also draw on tools and collaborators. some of which look and feel like ‘data’ from engineering or physics? To deal with this. and to take co-presence as a different starting point for ethnographies of knowledge practice also has implications for the organization of fieldwork as a form of academic work.8 But along with the anxieties and challenges that derive from these new conditions. they more often involve corporate partners or other agencies that modulate access to sites of knowledge production. For the ethnographer. but these alliances are no less in need of critique than earlier ones between ethnographers and the colonial powers that provided infrastructural privilege. Ethnography of research in the humanities and social sciences are also much closer to home for STS scholars. by writing in my blog that is read by both colleagues and participants). as problems of scale are presented by fieldwork in networked settings. Given the wealth of traces in mediated settings and the role of infrastructure. 2002). 1998). It would be interesting to consider how ethnographers manage the element of meta-alternation. by which I mean the skill needed to be able to switch from one kind of presence to another. of small-scale social research. Ethnographic research will then tend to take on the shape of teamwork. Contiguity of mediated settings leads not only to more reflexive use of language and to faster cycles of self-fulfilling prophecy of social research (Pollner.Beaulieu 9 of accountability. Obviously. Today. My own approach has been to acknowledge these multiple accountabilities. so that scholars on campus can be both ethnographic subjects and colleagues in the course of a single day. organize and make sense of these traces. these settings also put forth important question for STS about knowledge and its legitimacy in networked and multi-media contexts (Taylor and Kolko. whether such deployment of multiple kinds of expertise is necessary will vary according to the issues pursued in particular projects. Switching roles is an integral part of everyday life and ethnographers have always taken part in multiple worlds. Fieldwork in mediated settings such as the web involves a particular version of this because these multiple worlds become contiguous. whether actual or metaphorical. There are a number of ways of managing these tensions. such as university administrations or national service centres for research. depending on one’s position. though drawing other experts into one’s fieldwork may require the production of particular kinds of fieldnotes and recordings (see Newman. but it can also mean a kind of hyper-reflexivity that requires both skill and intensive work on the part of the researcher. The ethnographer may also find herself in need of infrastructural allies. and to make explicit their various ethical implications as the research unfolds (for example. how is the researcher to filter. for example. in professional terms. constituting the object through co-presence may also demand different analytical skills. who provide access to particular layers of the field. existing as multiple windows on a single desktop.

perhaps as a form of unfolding hypertext or dedicated visualizations. such as ‘when’ researchers are social as opposed to ‘where’ such sociality takes place. Ethnographers require particular skills to modulate these relations. I found myself decreasing my presence in the field by visiting fewer events and by changing the level of public access to my blog (using privacy settings to restrict access to certain posts). a backstage is difficult to manage – why one is needed is of course the productive question here. I also gradually unsubscribed from mailing lists and other services. but also to convey descriptions of action in time and to provide insight into the infrastructural context of fieldwork. Hypermedia can be a good way to convey highly networked ways of working. When the field is continuous with many aspects of our work. 2008). how will this shape the way we write and communicate our research? We may see new forms arising. such as ‘focale’. Co-presence draws attention to the temporal cycles of research. Fieldwork turns out to be a more explicitly cyclical activity – one that is always more or less continuous. 2007) and new forms of accountability for ethnographers. and enables the ethnographer to focus on the ways particular objects flow through phases of research. As a concept that emphasizes interaction.10 Social Studies of Science XX(X) the function of travel to the field. Focusing on co-presence is also an opportunity to rethink the appropriate way to communicate such work. though I have found myself ‘signing on’ to lists or platforms again when wanting to signal to particular constituencies the publication of papers arising from fieldwork (Beaulieu and Høybye.. 2007). If time and infrastructures do turn out to be important elements in these accounts. In such cases. co-presence shapes accounts of the field so that time and process are emphasized over space and place (Beaulieu et al. in studying other scholars. and on the way this shapes ethnographic knowledge (Halstead et al. and other markers besides (accounts of) departure may serve similar purposes. The contiguity of the field and of the ethnographer’s activities also implies an awareness of the circulation of one’s own work. The possibilities for ending one’s co-presence and for modulating one’s presence in a field that is always potentially present are being explored by ethnographers: for example. 2007). . and mutuality of field relations (Mortensen and Walker. leading to research that is more cooperative rather than objectifying.. a point of sustained interest in contrast to ‘locale’ (Beaulieu et al. For example. and returning periodically to it. Co-presence can serve as the starting point for ethnographers in STS who study forms of research that usually do not involve large investments in physical settings such as labs. Co-presence highlights unfolding interaction. I have also seen colleagues abandon the idea that a setting marks a kind of activity and embrace a performative view of when they are at work or play (Copier. not only at different points all along the research process (as discussed in relation to authorship and contiguity). 2007). New terms may be needed to describe such fieldwork. 2010).. and for those who find themselves being studied. cycles and pace might well be rendered in digital media. and attention to the way mediation changes the durability. Besides opening up new empirical directions. while drawing on the rich traditions of lab studies and of studies of infrastructures. which means that cycles of work become interesting. discrete boundaries may become less important. co-presence opens new directions and new fields for STS inquiry. 2002). and sequences. This may point to a different kind of attachment (Jensen. of leaving it. this approach also raises new analytical issues.

because this approach to fieldwork may also renew interest in the question of what one is studying in STS. If studying research by being present in the lab showed the importance of having good hands. Finally. the activities encountered will constitute science. I can now see why asking for a visit to the first lab had been such a good strategy. Its success was probably due more to the specific context of my research than to the fact . 2008). One of the implications of the assumption that interaction is a condition of co-presence may be to make ethnographies increasingly challenging to convey. draw boundaries and otherwise navigate flows of data. can enrich our understanding of key concerns for STS: what counts as knowledge. such as in the case of the ‘wizards’ described by Voskhul (2004: 405). if one is not taking the physical space of the lab as a necessary and sufficient condition for constituting the field. and the new cognitive and embodied skills required by these settings (Alac. then he or she can (and often does) appeal to the setting to claim that at some point. co-presence. As fieldwork focuses on the connections that are part of these activities. at least until new genres and conventions emerge. this can be an occasion to further explore assumptions about boundaries. mash up. 2006). researchers may come to rely on particular kinds of people with special affinities with computers and software in order to sustain their research efforts. then one needs to articulate the criteria that will mark the activities as belonging to research. It can help to understand how researchers further elaborate and extend the particular material culture of digitization (Hine. Focusing on new kinds of fields reveals roles and practices of knowledge production that differ from those observed in labs. and why. These and other studies that analyse inscriptions and writing devices as effective ways of articulating the relationship between individual and collective actions (Callon. It can also further illuminate how modes of collecting (van House. 2008). and the ways they impart certain status to knowledge in STS. the ethnographer can rely on the setting as a resource that contributes to constituting his or her object. Myers. If the ethnographer enters into what is recognized as a space of science. 2002.Beaulieu 11 Co-presence also has the potential to shift the contributions of ethnography to STS. This may make for ‘busy’ ethnographies. For example. being able to sort. of embodied knowledge needed for making experiments work. Stanley. Co-presence is a very active form of ‘field-making’. and a certain lack of stability of the ‘field’ could be considered a potential loss of adopting this approach.9 While this is questioned and deconstructed in interesting ways. 2008. 2001) can be further explored through this kind of fieldwork that embraces mediation. 2002) and laboratory practices are transferred to web-based settings (Hine. However. Epilogue In retrospect. 2002). Ethnographic inquiry based on co-presence can shed light on these different conceptions of scientific work. The effort needed to sustain co-presence should not be underestimated. The field is not a container or background in which interaction takes place. as a way of deploying ethnography. The field is constituted in the interaction. ethnographies of mediated settings can show that other kinds of skills are turning out to be valuable in non-lab based knowledge production – sensitivities to textual and other mediated forms of expression. and to develop new skills that enable them to become sensitive to the particularities of forms of documents (Riles.

Casper Bruun Jensen. rather than by inhabiting a shared physical site. Adolfo Estalella.10 At the very least. And I could also have explored its interactive possibilities (various downloads. Rather than feeling that it was a move to alienate me from heart of the action. mediation and knowledge’ (Copenhagen. a broader treatment of co-presence sheds a different light on how to find out about research practices. I also look back on that episode at the second lab in a very different way. I wish to thank the participants in the various events of the Virtual Ethnography Collaboratory of the VKS. October 2008). Acknowledgements Discussions with many colleagues and informants have shaped the methodological reflections presented here. Drafts of this text benefitted from comments from Mette Terp Høybye. it is clear to me that I would have gained something by treating the apparent brush-off as a resource for developing my fieldwork and my relation to the researchers. it would have been better to consider what this suggestion from the director conveyed about the lab’s objects of knowledge. The spatial organization of the lab (open plan) had also been specifically designed based on ‘new knowledge economy’ modes of management. Sarah de Rijcke. My first site was located in new purposebuilt facilities. Barcelona.12 Social Studies of Science XX(X) that I had hit on the ideal way to start fieldwork. Paul Wouters and Sally Wyatt. In particular. and with the possibility of thinking about constituting the field through co-presence. as well as from three anonymous reviewers and the editor of this journal. these connections are essential to the work of researchers and need to be embraced by ethnographers. would not have constituted anything approaching a rich field site. May 2007) and contributors to the AoIR 2008 pre-conference workshop ‘In the game: ethnographic relationships. ‘demos’ and tutorials were on offer) and the extent to which I could use this interface to appropriate the tools and findings of the lab for my own use. The place and space of the lab were themselves important achievements for the lab director. I could also have considered how this site functioned as an interface with the lab with newcomers such as myself. as well as other researchers. I am grateful for the critiques and suggestions generously shared. Although they may not involve walking around the halls together. 2005). Kalpana Shankar. nor to co-presence as an unexpected aspect of the use of certain communication technologies (Ito and Okabe. which have different scope and aims. which focuses on the design and use of computer-mediated communication applications (Zhao and Elesh. The suggestion to take a look at the website was not a brush-off: the achievements of this lab consisted of contributions to data pipelines. in a prime location in the historical heart of the territory of the fields of neurology and neuroscience. and stopping there. by setting up occasions to examine and explicate the site together. Armed with these insights about the constitution of the field. I am not referring here to the body of work called ‘presence research’. 2008). Looking at the website. of special data reconstruction programmes and of sophisticated visualization tools – all elements best seen from the website. . But looking back. participants in the workshop ‘Qualitative Methods for Internet Research: Mediating Ethnography’ (Open University of Catalonia. Notes 1. By letting go of space as primary reference and necessary condition. I could have used the website as an object through which to establish relations with the researchers.

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Her research follows two main lines: the study of the use of databases and networks in knowledge creation. she is currently pursuing an ethnographic study of knowledge production around databases of images on the web entitled Network Realism.18 Bibliographical notes Social Studies of Science XX(X) Anne Beaulieu is Senior Research Fellow at the Virtual Knowledge Studio for the Humanities and Social Sciences (VKS) of the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam. and Deputy Programme Leader of the VKS. Together with Sarah de Rijcke (VKS). and the development of new ethnographic approaches to cultural and social phenomena in mediated settings. .